Chronology of American Film

1878    Eadweard Muybridge uses multiple cameras to produce a series of still photographs that can be combined in sequence to show a horse in motion.

1888    Thomas Edison announces his plans to develop a device for recording and displaying motion pictures.

1889    Edison’s planned device is formally named the “kinetoscope.”

1891    First public demonstrations of prototype kinetoscopes, single-viewer machines that allow the viewing of brief films inside the unit.

1893    Muybridge exhibits films of animals in motion to a paying audience at the World’s Columbian Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago. At the same exposition, Edison exhibits the first completed kinetoscope film, made at Edison’s “Black Maria,” the first American movie studio, in West Orange, New Jersey.

1894    Edison makes Fred Ott’s Sneeze, which becomes the first copyrighted motion picture. The first public kinetoscope parlor opens in New York City, featuring 10 machines, each showing a different short film. Similar parlors are soon opened in Chicago and San Francisco.

1895    A new device, the Eidoloscope, is used for the first commercial screening of a projected motion picture in the United States. The American Mutoscope Company is founded, becoming the first American company devoted exclusively to the production and exhibition of films.

1896    The Edison Company’s projection system, the Vitascope, is used for its first commercial exhibition, making it clear that projection is the future of film exhibition. However, American Mutoscope’s Biograph projector offers superior image quality.

1899    American Mutoscope becomes the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company.

1903    The Edison Company produces Edwin S. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery, often credited as the first American narrative film of significant length (11 minutes).

1904    Marcus Loew founds the theater chain that will grow into Loew’s Theatres, which will last until 2006, when it merges with AMC Theaters under the name of the latter.

1906    Biograph opens its own movie studio in New York City.

1908    Edison spearheads the formation of the Motion Picture Patents Company (MPPC), an amalgamation of the nine leading U.S. motion picture companies. Eastman Kodak (the country’s only manufacturer of film stock) agrees to sell film stock only to the members of the MPPC. D. W. Griffith becomes the film director for Biograph, one of the members of the MPPC.

1909    The Selig Polyscope Company (a member of the MPPC) opens the first Los Angeles–area film studio and releases the first film, In the Sultan’s Power, made entirely on the West Coast.

1910    Actors in American films begin to be identified in onscreen credits as part of an attempt on the part of Carl Laemmle and his Independent Moving Pictures Company (IMP) to use recognized stars to market films (and thus better to compete with the MPPC). Griffith’s film In Old California for Biograph, is the first film made in Hollywood, a district of Los Angeles. Hollywood rapidly becomes the center of the film industry.

1911    The independent New Jersey–based Centaur Company builds the first Hollywood film studio. By 1920, the once-sleepy hamlet would be the center of the American film industry.

1912    The U.S. government initiates an antitrust action against the MPPC, but by this time the company had already lost its stranglehold on the rapidly growing U.S. film industry. Famous Players Film Company (the forerunner of Paramount Pictures) is founded, ultimately making Paramount the oldest of the five major studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood. In the same year, Laemmle merges IMP with other studios to form Universal, arguably the first major studio.

1914    In the debut of an actor who would arguably become the most important actor of the silent-film era, Charles Chaplin appears in the first of his films for Mack Sennett’s Keystone Film Company. In addition to numerous short films, Chaplin appears in the first feature-length comedy in this year, Keystone’s Tillie’s Punctured Romance.

1915    Griffith’s feature-length The Birth of a Nation, made for the new Triangle Film Corporation, thrusts the United States to the forefront of the international film industry. The MPPC is ordered dissolved after it is found guilty of antitrust violations; the Supreme Court will verify the ruling in 1918.

1916    Intolerance,Griffith’s follow-up to Birth of a Nation, is even more ambitious, but is a commercial failure.

1917    The United States enters World War I. Theda Bara stars in the first film version of Cleopatra. Buster Keaton makes his first appearance in film. Mack Sennett leaves Keystone Studios to form his own independent production company; Keystone’s business subsequently declines.

1918    World War I ends. The four Warner Brothers open their first West Coast studio.

1919    Chaplin, Griffith, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford form United Artists in an attempt to give artists greater creative control over their work.

1920    The Mark of Zorro, starring Fairbanks, is the first film released by United Artists.

1921    With a 68-minute runtime, The Kid can be considered Chaplin’s first feature-length film, signaling the growing dominance of that form in the film industry. Griffith’s Dream Street experiments with the limited use of integrated sound in its prologue.

1922    Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North is the first feature-length documentary.

1923    Cecil B. DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments is the most expensive film made to that time.

1924    The major studio MGM is formed from an amalgamation of Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures, and Louis B. Mayer Pictures. The company will eventually become the biggest of the major studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

1925    The Lost World includes the most advanced special effects of the silent film era. The Big Parade, set during World War I, is a classic antiwar drama. MGM’s Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ grosses $9 million. The Gold Rush is perhaps Chaplin’s most respected silent films.

1926    Warner Bros. releases Don Juan with an integrated musical sound track (but no dialogue).

1927    The Jazz Singer makes use of synchronized sound and video (including limited dialogue), initiating a trend that would soon mean the end of the silent film era. The film helps make struggling Warner Bros. a major studio and heralds the coming of the sound film era. However, 1927 is a banner year for silent film and includes the release of such classics as Buster Keaton’s The General and German director F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise, a film that indicates a growing migration of top European directors to Hollywood. Louis B. Mayer is the prime force behind the founding of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

1928    The new sound film technology is instrumental in the founding of RKO Pictures, largely to aid in the marketing of sound film equipment developed by its parent, Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Paramount becomes the first studio to announce that it will henceforth produce only sound films.

1929    The Academy Awards are first given, with the first Oscar for Best Picture going to William Wellman’s silent film Wings (1927). It will be the only silent film ever to win the award. The awards themselves will go on to become the most prestigious honors in the film industry. The October 29 stock market crash heralds the beginning of the Great Depression in the United States; it will not truly end until World War II.

1930    Originally conceived as a silent film, All Quiet on the Western Front is released as a sound film; it is an impressive technical achievement that suggests the great potential of the new form. In answer to controversies over the potentially objectionable content of Hollywood films, the Production Code is established by the film industry as a form of self-censorship, though it will not be fully enforced until 1934.

1931    With sound film now almost entirely dominant, Chaplin’s City Lights is one of the last silent features, as Chaplin holds out against the tide toward sound films. New trends in film emerge with Universal’s monster movie Frankenstein and Warner Bros.’ gangster films Public Enemy and Little Caesar.

1933    King Kong is a major step forward in special effects technology. Gold Diggers of 1933, choreographed byBusby Berkeley, and 42nd Street are major milestones in the evolution of the movie musical.

1934    Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night sweeps the major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Actor, and Actress) and launches the classic period of the screwball comedy. Bright Eyes makes six-year-old Shirley Temple a star. Full enforcement of the Production Code goes into effect, curtailing the representation of sex and violence on the screen.

1935    The Fox Film Corporation and Twentieth Century Pictures merge to form Twentieth Century Fox. Becky Sharp is the first feature film shot entirely in three-strip Technicolor. Bride of Frankenstein is perhaps the first film actually to gain richness via its strategies to evade the Production Code.

1936    With Modern Times, even Chaplin finally joins the sound era, though the film still includes very limited dialogue. The Western feature The Trail of the Lonesome Pine features the first outdoor sequences shot in three-strip Technicolor.

1937    Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs becomes the first feature-length animated film—and the top-grossing film of the year. Its success proves the viability of animated features, while also providing a boost to the three-strip Technicolor process. MGM’s Louis B. Mayer is reportedly the highest-paid individual in America.

1939    The Civil War epic Gone with the Wind will go on to gross over $190 million, at that time easily the most in history. When adjusted for inflation, it is still the top box-office draw of all time in 2010. The Wizard of Oz is less of a hit when first released but will go on to become one of the iconic works of American popular culture. John Ford’s Stagecoach is a landmark in the evolution of the Western genre. Its star, John Wayne, will go on to become an icon of the genre. Films such as Ninotchka, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and Wuthering Heights are also released, making this arguably the greatest year in American film history.

1940    Ford’s The Grapes of Wrath is a surprisingly faithful adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel, the author’s most radical political statement about conditions during the Depression. Rebecca is Alfred Hitchcock’s first American film. Charles Chaplin’s anti-Nazi satire The Great Dictator is the director’s first genuine talkie and one of Hollywood’s first openly antifascist films.

1941    Twenty-five-year-old Orson Welles directs and stars in Citizen Kane, still often regarded as the greatest film ever made. The film has very limited success, largely due to the efforts of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst (widely acknowledged to be the model for Kane) to suppress it. Bette Davis becomes the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but soon resigns after clashes with other members of the organization’s ruling board. The United States enters World War II at the end of the year. Many will leave Hollywood for military service, while the film industry is mobilized to make films that support the war effort. The Maltese Falcon is perhaps the first true noir film, though film noir will not be identified (by French Critics) as a phenomenon until after World War II.

1942    Casablanca is the epitome of the classic Hollywood style, though its political emphasis (urging Americans to support the war effort against fascism) is unusually strong. Jacques Tourneur’s Cat People, produced by Val Lewton for RKO Pictures, initiates an important cycle of Lewton-produced horror films. The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles’s follow-up to Citizen Kane, is released by RKO but with a revised (happy) ending reshot by the studio without Welles’s participation or approval.

1945    World War II ends, though war films are still among Hollywood’s leading products, including The Story of G. I. Joe and They Were Expendable. Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend is another highlight of the year.

1946    Director Frank Capra returns from wartime military service to make It’s a Wonderful Life. Not a hit at the time, it will later become his most beloved film. The Best Years of Our Lives is an important commentary on the domestic social consequences of the war’s end. French critics Nino Frank and Jean-Pierre Chartier coin the term “film noir” in reference to wartime American films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Double Indemnity (1944), Laura (1944), Murder, My Sweet (1944), and The Lost Weekend (1945).

1947    The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) begins questioning members of the film industry in a declared effort to root out communist influence in Hollywood. The investigation will soon lead to the blacklisting of those in the industry suspected of “subversive” activities, especially in the highly publicized case of a group known as the “Hollywood Ten.” Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux bombs at the box office, partly because of public suspicions concerning Chaplin’s possible pro-communist sympathies. Welles goes into self-imposed exile in Europe to escape the repressive political climate in the United States.

1948    In the Paramount Antitrust Case, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the ownership and control of extensive theater chains by Hollywood’s major films studios is a violation of federal antitrust laws. The studios are subsequently forced to divest themselves of their theater holdings, leading to a major shake-up in the industry. Rope is Hitchcock’s first color feature.

1950    The Hollywood Ten begin serving prison sentences, and the blacklist is in full swing. Destination Moon and Rocketship X-M initiate a surge in the production of American science fiction films. Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd. is one of Hollywood’s great works of self-commentary. All about Eve is an even darker commentary on the ethos of show business. Going against the tradition of having stars work strictly under studio contracts for fixed salaries, James Stewart signs a freelance deal to star in the Western Winchester ’73, working for a percentage of the film’s profits.

1951    The Day the Earth Stood Still achieves a new level of thematic seriousness in science fiction film—and goes against the grain of American society by criticizing the Cold War arms race. A Streetcar Named Desire makes Marlon Brando a star. The Best Picture Oscar is from this point awarded to a film’s producers rather than the studio, indicating the decline of the old studio system.

1952    Singin’ in the Rain will become perhaps the most highly regarded musical of all time. The classic Western High Noon is interpreted by many as a commentary on Hollywood’s lack of courage in standing up to the blacklist. The introduction of high-quality color film by Eastman Kodak signals the beginning of the end for black-and-white film as the dominant mode in Hollywood. 3D films (especially horror and science fiction) begin to appear as an attempt to counter the growing appeal of television; Paramount’s big-screen Cinerama process debuts as part of the same effort. Neither of these attempts will be successful.

1953    Twentieth Century Fox releases The Robe in the newly developed CinemaScope format. The film is a major success that encourages the use of such wide-screen formats as a mode of competing with television for audiences. Otto Preminger’s The Moon Is Blue becomes the first studio-produced film to be released without approval of the Motion Picture Production Code since its full implementation in 1934. The film is nevertheless a big hit. George Stevens’s Shane is a classic Western.

1954    Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront wins the Academy Award for Best Picture, though many see it as an attempt to justify the director’s cooperative testimony before HUAC. Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window is one of the key films of the decade. Michael Curtiz’s White Christmas is the first film released in Paramount’s new VistaVision wide-screen format. Dorothy Dandridge’s performance in Carmen Jones wins her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress in a Leading Role, the first Oscar nomination for an African American.

1955    Rebel without a Cause signals the growing prominence of teenagers in film and in American culture as a whole; its star, James Dean, is killed in an auto accident at the age of 26, securing his legendary status as an icon of disaffected youth. The noir film Killer’s Kiss marks the debut of director Stanley Kubrick.

1956    Invasion of the Body Snatchers captures the paranoid tenor of the mid-1950s. John Ford’s The Searchers is one of the greatest Westerns in film history. Forbidden Planet is another science fiction classic. Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (a remake of his own 1923 film) is perhaps the greatest of the biblical epics released in the decade. Giant is a more contemporary epic, posthumously starring Dean. Rock around the Clock endorses the new rock music, while playing to the growing teen audience for film. The Wizard of Oz becomes the first feature-length film broadcast on television; its annual showings on television soon become an American institution.

1957    RKO Pictures, one of the major studios of the Golden Age of Hollywood, ceases active production, becoming the biggest casualty of the crisis that pervaded the film industry in the 1950s.

1958    Hitchcock’s Vertigo begins a key three-year sequence in which the director would release three consecutive classics. Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil will be considered by many to be the last film in the original film noir cycle.

1959    Wilder’s Some Like It Hot will come to be regarded as one of the funniest films of all time. Hitchcock’s North by Northwest is his second consecutive masterpiece.

1960    The blacklist is effectively broken when Hollywood Ten member Dalton Trumbo receives onscreen credit for writing both Otto Preminger’s Exodus and Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus. Hitchcock’s Psycho begins the new decade with what will become one of the director’s most admired films, though it is shocking to many at the time. The Apartment wins triple Oscars for Wilder, as its writer, director, and producer.

1961    The Misfits is Marilyn Monroe’s last completed film. El Cid is one of the last of the historical epics that became popular in the 1950s. TWA begins showing regular in-flight movies on cross-continental flights; NBC’s Saturday Night at the Movies premieres, indicating a growing trend toward broadcasting Hollywood films on television, part of a consolidation of the film and television industries.

1962    Monroe dies of an apparent drug overdose. The American–British co-production of Lawrence of Arabia is perhaps the high point in the cycle of wide-screen epics that began in the 1950s as an answer to the growing popularity of television. Dr. No initiates the James Bond film franchise. Marlon Brando becomes the first actor to be paid more than a million dollars to star in a film, for Mutiny on the Bounty. Kubrick’s controversial Lolita is the first of his films to be made in Great Britain, a practice he would continue through the remainder of his career.

1963    Cleopatra is the highest-grossing film of the year but loses money due to its high production costs. Elizabeth Taylor becomes the first female star to be paid a million dollars for her role in the film. Sidney Poitier stars in Lilies of the Field,which will make him the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor.

1964    Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove is an absurdist satire of the Cold War arms race that becomes a key marker of the beginning of a decline in nuclear anxiety in the United States. Don Siegel’s The Killers is the last film of actor Ronald Reagan.

1965    The Sound of Music wins the Best Picture Oscar and surpasses Gone with the Wind as the top-grossing film of all time.\

1966    Sweeping revisions to the Production Code allow Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to use levels of profanity unprecedented in American feature film.

1967    Showing the influence of the French New Wave, Bonnie and Clyde breaks new ground in Hollywood film, announcing the beginning of the New Hollywood era in American cinema. The Graduate and In the Heat of the Night indicate a growing willingness on the part of Hollywood studios to make films that criticize certain aspects of American society. Clint Eastwood stars in A Fistful of Dollars, the first spaghetti Western.

1968    Planet of the Apes and Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey make this year a landmark in the evolution of science fiction film. Rosemary’s Baby and Night of the Living Dead do much the same for the horror film, as both horror and science fiction join the wave of new creativity that would ultimately be known as the New Hollywood. The Motion Picture Association of America institutes a new system for rating films on the basis of age-group suitability, effectively replacing the Production Code.

1969    The success of the countercultural film Easy Rider suggests new directions for Hollywood film and helps to usher in the New Hollywood era. Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch portrays unprecedented levels of violence. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid updates the Western for new, hipper audiences. Midnight Cowboy becomes the first X-rated film to win the Oscar for Best Picture, though the rating is later revised to R. The Woodstock music festival is held, providing a key monument of the 1960s counterculture.

1970    Robert Altman’s MASH, set in the Korean War, is an important antiwar comedy generally interpreted as a commentary on the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Woodstock, about the previous year’s music festival, becomes one of the most successful documentaries of all time.

1971    Melvin Van Peebles’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971) initiates the blaxploitation film cycle.

1972    The Godfather is perhaps the greatest work of the New Hollywood, making director Francis Ford Coppola a major figure in that movement. Burglars connected to the Committee to Re-Elect the President (Republican Richard Nixon) break into Democratic Party Headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C., triggering a major political scandal.

1973    Altman’s The Long Goodbye helps to begin the resurrection of film noir in the new mode known as “neo-noir.” The science fiction thriller Westworld is the first film to employ computer-generated imagery (CGI). The Exorcist is a huge box-office hit, demonstrating the commercial potential of horror films.

1974    Nixon is forced to resign from office due to fallout from the Watergate scandal. That scandal will soon help to inspire a wave of paranoid thrillers in film, of which Coppola’s The Conversation (released four months before the resignation) is one of the first. Coppola’s The Godfather: Part II becomes the first sequel to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Roman Polanski’s Chinatown is perhaps the greatest of the neo-noir films, making neo-noir an important component of the New Hollywood.

1975    Jaws is a breakthrough film for director Steven Spielberg; one of the first films to open nationwide rather than slowly building toward national distribution, it contributes to a growing emphasis on blockbusters among Hollywood studios. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest sweeps the top five Academy Awards, the first film to do so since It Happened One Night.The U.S. military withdrawal leads to the fall of Saigon and the end of the war in Vietnam, which will subsequently become the subject matter of some of the key films of the coming years.

1976    Taxi Driver makes stars of actor Robert De Niro and director Martin Scorsese. It will become one of the best-known and most influential works of the New Hollywood, including playing a role in the fantasy world of John Hinckley that will inspire him to attempt the assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. All the President’s Men is inspired directly by the Watergate scandal. Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky goes against the typical cynicism of 1970s film and becomes a major hit, winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.

1977    Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and (especially) George Lucas’s Star Wars initiate a major renaissance in science fiction film. The latter, in particular, points toward the growing importance of special effects in the film industry in the coming years. Annie Hall is director Woody Allen’s biggest hit.

1978    John Carpenter’s independently produced low-budget horror film Halloween is a surprise hit that initiates the teen slasher subgenre (and its own long-running franchise), which would come to dominate horror in the 1980s. Superman is the first major film featuring a comic-book superhero.

1979    Coppola’s Apocalypse Now is the first major post–Vietnam War film about that conflict; initially greeted with mixed responses, it will go on to become an acclaimed masterpiece. Ridley Scott’s Alien initiates a major science fiction franchise.

1980    Former Hollywood B-movie actor Ronald Reagan is elected president of the United States. Scorsese’s Raging Bull, a biopic about boxer Jake LaMotta, will become the most highly regarded sports film and the most highly regarded biopic of all time. Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate is an expensive box-office failure that for many signals the end of the New Hollywood era. Friday the 13th initiates the second (after Halloween) of the major slasher franchises.

1981    Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (executive produced by Lucas) is a huge hit that initiates the Indiana Jones film franchise.

1982    Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial continues the ongoing resurgence in the popularity of science fiction films, extending its appeal to younger audiences. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan takes the use of computergenerated imagery to a new level.

1984    The Terminator continues a string of important science fiction films released since 1977 and makes stars of both director James Cameron and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street initiates the third major slasher franchise, though the slasher genre as a whole shows signs of losing steam.

1986    Oliver Stone’s Platoon becomes one of the most respected films about the Vietnam War, winning the Oscar for Best Picture and making its director a major figure in Hollywood. Blue Velvet makes clear that director David Lynch is a major new rising creative force in American film. The campy, but effectively satirical, Robocop is a hit, but announces the beginning of the end of the science fiction renaissance of the decade.

1987    Stone’s Wall Street becomes the definitive cinematic exploration of capitalist greed during the Reagan years.

1988    Who Framed Roger Rabbit achieves a new level of sophistication in combining live action and animated images. Pixar’s Tin Toy becomes the first computer-animated film to win an Academy Award (for Best Animated Short). The National Film Preservation Act establishes the National Film Registry to ensure the preservation of culturally significant films.

1989    The Little Mermaid is the first major animated hit for Disney in decades, signaling the beginnings of a renaissance for Disney and for animated film as a whole. Tim Burton’s Batman resurrects the superhero film genre, but in a darker mode than the previous Superman films.

1990    Dances with Wolves is the year’s Best Picture Oscar winner, revising the Western genre from the point of view of Native Americans.

1991    Stone’s JFK suggests possible CIA involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and becomes one of the most controversial films of the 1990s. Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day is the first film to exceed $100 million in production costs. Beauty and the Beast is another huge hit for Disney and becomes the first animated film to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. John Singleton becomes the first African American nominated for the Best Director Oscar, for Boyz ’n the Hood. The Silence of the Lambs becomes the third film to sweep the top five Academy Awards.

1992    Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven becomes the second Western in three years to win the Best Picture Oscar, proving that Westerns can still succeed in Hollywood.

1993    Spielberg’s Schindler’s List will become the director’s most respected film and win him his first Academy Award for Best Director. Philadelphia is the first major Hollywood film to deal extensively with the AIDS issue.

1994    The Lion King, with a domestic gross of over $300 million, is Disney’s biggest commercial success to date; that success helps Disney to become the first studio to exceed one billion dollars in gross domestic boxoffice receipts for the year. Forrest Gump wins the Best Picture Oscar and breaks new ground in the manipulation of images to insert its actors into existing historical footage.

1995    Pixar’s Toy Story is the first feature-length film generated entirely by computer animation, which will quickly become the dominant form of film animation. Toy Story is also the biggest box-office hit in a year in which Mel Gibson’s problematic Braveheart wins the Oscar for Best Picture.

1996    Fargo is the mnost accomplished film to date by the Coen Brothers, though the biggest box-office hit of the year is Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, an effects-driven alien-invasion spectacle.

1997    Cameron’s Titanic will become the biggest box-office film of all time—and will remain so until supplanted by Cameron’s Avatar in 2010. Good Will Hunting makes a major splash and introduces Matt Damon and Ben Affleck to film audiences.

1998    Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan brings new levels of realism to the war film. Antz is the first animated film from DreamWorks.

1999    The much anticipated Star Wars: Episode I—The Phantom Menace is a huge hit that initiates the second Star Wars trilogy, a prequel to the first. Another science fiction film, The Matrix, sets new standards for computerenhanced action sequences.

2000    Steven Soderbergh’s Erin Brockovich is a highlight of the year, winning a Best Actress Oscar for star Julia Roberts. X-Men is the first major film adapted from a leading Marvel comics franchise. Its success initiates a highly successful sequence of Marvel adaptations that will lay the groundwork for the immense later success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films.

2001    Mulholland Drive is widely proclaimed as David Lynch’s most successful film. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring initiates a landmark film trilogy based on the novels of J. R. R. Tolkien. DreamWorks’s Shrek wins the first Academy Award for Best Animated Feature, mounting a challenge to Disney’s dominance in that genre. Denzel Washington stars in Training Day, Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball; the roles will make them the first African Americans to win Oscars for Best Actor and Best Actress in the same year.

2002    Chicago proves that the musical is still a viable film genre—and goes on to become the first musical to win the Oscar for Best Picture since Oliver! (1969). Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones is the first big-budget Hollywood feature shot entirely in digital video.

2003    U.S. military forces invade and occupy Iraq. Finding Nemo becomes Pixar’s biggest hit to date and wins the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Pixar is clearly the new industry leader in children’s animation, ending decades of dominance by Disney (though Disney distributes the film). Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger becomes governor of California.

2005    Chicken Little is the first Disney-branded film produced entirely by computer animation and the first film released using the new Disney Digital 3D process, signaling a coming wave of 3D films using new digital processes. Brokeback Mountain breaks new ground in the representation of gay characters on screen.

2006    Disney acquires Pixar, reestablishing its position as the industry leader in animated films for children. The Departed wins the Oscar for Best Picture and also wins director Martin Scorsese his first Best Director Oscar.

2007    The Writers Guild of America initiates a three-month strike that has severe repercussions throughout the entertainment industry. The strike is mainly concerned with such issues as writers’ residuals for sales of film and television programs on DVD and in new media. Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood is a critical hit that will only grow in stature over time. However, the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men wins them their first Best Picture Oscar.

2008    Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight is a huge hit, becoming the top-grossing superhero film of all time. Another superhero hit, Iron Man, will go on to become the first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most successful box-office phenomenon of all time.

2009    Disney and DreamWorks announce plans to release all subsequent children’s animated films in digital 3D formats. DreamWorks’s Monsters vs. Aliens is the first film released under this new program. Up is the first Pixar film to be released in the Disney Digital 3D format. It is also the third consecutive Pixar film to win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature. Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds is his highest-grossing film to date. Cameron’s 3D science fiction film Avatar breaks new technological ground—and becomes the highest-grossing film of all time. However, the Iraq occupation drama The Hurt Locker wins the Academy Award as the year’s Best Picture.

2010    Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland mixes live actors with computer animation and is released in Disney Digital 3D. It becomes Disney’s secondhighest-grossing film both domestically and worldwide, exceeded only by Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006). Toy Story 3, meanwhile, is a successful extension of the Pixar franchise that grosses even more than Alice in Wonderland. It is, in fact, the top-grossing film of the year—in a year in which the box office is dominated by children’s films. Nolan’s science fiction thriller Inception is one of the year’s highlights. The Coen Brothers remake the classic Western True Grit. Winter’s Bone introduces Jennifer Lawrence to American audiences. The Social Network details the rise of Facebook. Darren Aronofksy solidifies his critical reputation with the horror drama Black Swan.

2011    Scorsese’s whimsical Hugo is one of the most discussed films of the year, though not a box-office success. Martha Marcy May Marlene is a gripping psychological thriller that wins widespread critical praise. Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff is a genuinely original Western. Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is an ambitious work of cinematic art, though it triggers much critical debate. Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn breaks into American film with the neo-noir drama Drive. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2 winds up the Harry Potter film franchise and leads the year at the box office with over $1.3 billion in worldwide receipts.

2012    Ben Affleck’s Argo will win the Best Picture Oscar for the year’s films, but this was a year dominated by blockbusters, rather than critical favorites. The huge success of The Avengers makes clear the immense box-office potential of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), while films such as Skyfall, The Dark Knight Rises, and The Hunger Games indicate the broader box-office potential of action films in general, buoyed by advances in computer-generated imagery. Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a joint U.S.-New Zealand production, grossed more than $1 billion, but received a lukewarm response from critics. It might ultimately be more important for being the first film with a 48 frames-per-second frame rate, as opposed to the usual 2 fps.

2013    In a sign of the increasing globalization of the film industry the Best Picture Oscar goes to a film—12 Years a Slave—with a British director (Steve McQueen), while the Best Director Oscar goes to a film—Gravity—with a Mexican director (Alfonso Cuarón). The Disney animated film Frozen becomes an instant classic and a huge hit. American Hustle and The Wolf od Wall Street at least gestured toward a critique of the American financial system.

2014    Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is probably the most critically praised film of the year, though the box office was again dominated by effects-driven comic book adaptations and science fiction films, from Nolan’s relatively thoughtful science fiction film Interstellar to the irreverent superhero film Guardians of the Galaxy, an entry in the MCU. The top two box office hits—Transformers: Age of Extinction and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies—win very little critical respect, though.

2015    Star Wars: The Force Awakens initiates the third Star Wars trilogy—and grosses more than $2 billion worldwide. Four other films grossed more than $1 billion, including the children’s film Minions, though Pixar’s Inside Out was the year’s critical favorite amond chidlren’s films. Spotlight, an exposé of the attempts of the Catholic Church to hide their scandals over child sexual molestation, wins the Best Picture Oscar, though Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant generates the year’s biggest critical buzz. Mad Max: Fury Road is proclaimed an instant science fiction classic. Robert Eggers’ The Witch announces the arrival of a major new talent in horror film.

2016    Comic book films and children’s films dominate the box office, though critical praise is focused on serious dramas such as Moonlight (the Best Picture Oscar winner) and Manchester by the Sea. The nostalgic La La Land announces something of a comeback for the musical. Meanwhile, the attention drawn by Manchester by the Sea, a film produced by Amazon Studios primarily for their Prime Video streaming platform, marks the arrival of streaming platformssuch as Prime Video and Netflix as major players in the film industry. Netflix takes its platform global, expanding to more than 190 countries, with content being largely the same everywhere, though there are some local variations.

2017    Franchise films, comic book films, and remakes dominate the box office, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi at the top. The Shape of Water, a science fiction film from Mexican director Guillermo del Toro, wins the Best Picture Oscar, but the year’s most important event might be the arrival of Jordan Peele, with Get Out, as a major horror director. Darren Aronofsky’s outrageous Mother!, also a horror film of sorts, generates considerable controversy. Allegations of sexual misconduct against Harvey Weinstein, one of Hollywood’s most powerful executives, shake the film industry.

2018    Five films gross more than $1 billion, four of which are comic book adaptations. Avengers: Infinity War leads the way with over $2 billion in gross receipts. Both Cuarón (Roma) and the Coen Brothers (The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) direct films for the Netflix streaming platform, signaling a growing prominence for streaming platforms that alarms many traditionalists in the film industry. Ari Aster’s Hereditary is the year’s most important horror film.

2019    Disney acquires Twentieth Century Fox, further consolidating itself as a power within the film industry—and acquiring a significant new library of content for potential use on its streaming platform, which also goes into operation this year. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker rounds out the third Star Wars trilogy. Avengers: Endgame becomes the top-grossing film of all time, displacing Avatar after a decade in that position. Both The Rise of Skywalker and Endgame are Disney films, indicating the box-office dominance of the company. Animated children’s film sequels and other comic book films otherwise dominate the box office, though one billion-dollar-grossing film, The Joker, deviates substantially from the roots of the title character in Batman comics and veers into extremely dark territory. Veteran directors fare well, as Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman (another Netflix film) and Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood are among the most talked-about films of the year. They are also both more than three hours long, highlighting a recent trend toward longer films.

2020 The action comedy Bad Boys for Life gets American film off to a good start at the box office in the new year. A variety of other releases also do well, from the video-game adaptation Sonic the Hedge Hog to the horror remake The Invisible Man. Meanwhile, film history was changed when Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 South Korean film Parasite became the first non-English language film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture in the 2020 award ceremony. The Coronavirus Pandemic then closed theaters and derailed the movie business worldwide, causing most release to be delayed or moved to video-on-demand. Proliferating streaming platforms thus become all the more important to American cinema. Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, a joint U.S.-U.K. production, is the biggest box-office draw of the year post-Coronavirus, but is still a major disappointment relative to original expectations for the film. 

2021 The film industry continues to struggle to get back to normal as most theaters re-open (though some close permanently). Godzilla vs. King Kong becomes the first film to gross over $100 million in the U.S. and Canada since the pandemic. However, the ongoing expansion of streaming platforms continues to threaten theater attendance. Streaming services continued to gain awards momentum as well, with the 2022 Oscar for Best Picture (for films released in 2021) going to CODA, which was seen primarily on the Apple TV+ streaming platform. One of the year’s most highly anticipated films is Denis Villeneuve’s remake of the first half of Dune, primarily seen on the HBO Max platform.